A new kitten is a new family member. Congratulations on your new addition! Here is the most effective way to introduce your kitten to the family without causing any sibling rivalry!
Your new cat and your family
When you bring kittens home, let them rest and get their bearings first. Once they’re ready, you can start introducing them to their new human family.
Get everyone to sit on the floor and only touch the kitten if approached. There should be no grabbing or arguing. If kittens hide, tempt them out with a toy or a treat – encourage but don’t force them to be sociable.
If you have children, they will need to learn how to handle kittens properly.
- Teach them how to stroke the cat gently. Toddlers generally 'pat', which can hurt. Instead, a light stroke is ideal. Tails should never be pulled.
- Teach them where to stroke kittens – the top of the head and along the back.
- Although tummies are irresistible when a kitten is rolling and playing, most are rather sensitive about this area and may lash out.
- Your kitten should always be left alone when feeding, toileting, or sleeping.
- Hands should be washed after handling the kitten and the litter tray.
- The litter tray is not a sandpit – so don’t let young children play in it!
Introducing your new cat to other cats
Most cats will eventually accept a newcomer, though it depends on the personalities involved. Let your kitten settle in for a day or two before any introductions are made.
- While the cats are separate, bring your existing cat a blanket that your new kitten has been sleeping on, and let them sniff it, to get them familiar with this new feline scent.
- Play it safe and use an indoor pen or carrier to protect your new arrival from any over-reaction from the surprised resident territory holder. Put the carrier on the floor of a chosen safe room.
- Invite the older cat into the room. Both cats will be able to assess each other through the bars of the crate without coming to any harm.
- Stroke your older cat to provide some reassurance and show there is no favouritism.
- Don’t worry if there is a spat with hissing and arched backs – this is natural.
- Once the introductions have started going smoothly, reverse the positions and bring the kitten to meet the older cat. Praise them both if they are civil to each other and give them each a treat.
- Hold the next meeting in another room. Keep moving around the house so the kitten's scent spreads too.
- Repeat short introductions frequently until there is less of a reaction from either of the cats. Keep giving your existing cat, or both cats, treats, so their association with the other cat is a positive one.
- Give both cats plenty of safe places up high to watch one another and to feel safe. Clear shelves and windowsills for this purpose.
- Be sure to give your new arrival lots of playtime with you and do not rely on your older cat being a babysitter. They may start to get annoyed!
Before you know it, your two cats will be getting on with their own lives with only the odd scrap.
When introducing a cat to another cat - they will either learn to ignore each other or become best friends, curling up with each other for a nap and grooming each other regularly.
Even if a resident dog doesn’t get terribly excited at the sight of a new kitten, great care should still be taken when introducing a cat to a dog. Over-exuberant play can harm a kitten, so mutual respect needs to be encouraged.
- Place your kitten in a pet carrier, then put your dog on a lead and let him investigate the new arrival, keeping the case up high, if necessary, for safety. If the dog shows any signs of getting over excited, remain calm. Try to distract your dog’s attention and give him a treat when he settles down.
- Repeat the process over several days, moving the carrier around the house until they are paying little attention to each other.
- When they’re both ready, you can remove the carrier. Choose a room that has an upward escape route (so your kitten can jump up and out of the dog's reach. Make sure the doors are closed and your dog is on a lead, under your control.
- Hold the dog on a lead before bringing in the kitten. It is important that the kitten doesn't run away, as this will make things more exciting for the dog who may see it as a fun chase game.
- Keep the meetings short and sweet. Over several meetings, they will probably start to ignore each other. Reward your dog for calm behaviour around your kitten.
- Once your pets are no longer bothered by each other's presence, remove the lead. Always ensure the kitten can jump up to a safe spot out of the dog's reach.
- Never leave the two unsupervised until you can trust them completely with each other. Be patient, as this process can take weeks.
Your new kitten and other pets
Don’t take any chances with other pets such as birds, rodents and other small creatures. Cats have evolved to hunt and eat such creatures and they are unlikely to change their habits after millions of years. Use your common sense and keep your new kitten well away from their natural prey!
Coming home with your kitten
Kittens and cats are very adaptable and will enjoy living with their new family. The following tips may help your kitten settle in to your home.
- Keep your kitten securely in a cat carry case while transporting them and bringing them into your home. Do not be tempted to get them out and hold them, as many wriggly and energetic kittens go missing at this point!
- Bring your kitten home at a time that you have spare time to get them settled and spend time with them.
- Have all their equipment – food and water dishes, bed, litter tray, scratching post, toys - already purchased and set up.
- Settle your kitten into one secure room in your home. Allow them out to explore and stay with them, chatting softly, so they get to know you.
- It is also important to give your kitten time on their own, to get used to being away from their littermates and from you. Leave them with something positive such as safe toys, some food and a bed.
- Moving home can stress some cats, so ensure that your kitten is still eating, drinking, sleeping and toileting during the move and for several days afterwards. Consult your vet if you are unsure about your kitten’s health.
- Try to keep any routines the same as before. Keep feeding them the same food as they have previously been fed and, if you want to change diets, do so gradually over 10 days.
- Over the next day or two, bring your kitten into another room in your home and allow them to explore. Your cat will soon know your entire home, so set up any no-go areas from the start by closing doors.
- Remember that a new home can be a large place for a kitten. They may not be able to reach their litter tray in time or may forget that curtains should not be scratched. Be patient. Be calm and teach your kitten by praising the behaviours that you enjoy.
About Dr Joanne Righetti
Dr Jo Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating people in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She consults with vet clinics, organisations, companies, councils, universities and media and is a regular guest on radio, with pet behaviour Q&As. Jo has also written a number of pet behaviour books and loves chatting to people on social media channels. Jo lives with a dog and 4 cats, as well as 3 sons and a husband. Find out more about Joanne at www.petproblemsolved.com.au.